Smart ways to beat rate rises and mortgage stress

Smart ways to beat rate rises and mortgage stress

By Andrea Sophocleous
October 2, 2009

Home ownership has long been touted as the great Australian dream, but for many it is an increasingly unattainable one . Sky-rocketing property prices have turned Australia into one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, expanding the size of the average mortgage and making repayments a monthly challenge.

Lower interest rates over the past 12 months have eased the pressure of repayments for home owners lucky to have kept their jobs, but unfortunately for some , the lowest rates in 40 years have not translated to ease of mind.

In the past year 55,362 families had to use mortgage payment holidays and hardship provisions offered by banks as they struggled to meet their mortgage repayments. In the first six months of this year, 3 , 260 houses were repossessed by banks in NSW alone, while in Victoria 3 , 068 homes were repossessed in the 12 months to June.

Ian Graham, chief executive officer of mortgage insurance company QBE Lenders’ Mortgage Insurance, says the incidence of hardship requests spiked in October last year, at the start of the global financial crisis, and increased again in May following an awareness campaign by the F ederal G overnment, reminding people of the availability of hardship provisions.

“The rise in hardship requests reflects the increase in unemployment,” Graham says.

“Ninety-five percent of all hardship requests are deserving, and the banks and QBE support them.”

Falling behind in your repayments or suffering mortgage stress (where more than 30 percent of your income is directed towards repayments) is a scary scenario for any family or individual, but being aware of your options can minimise the stress. Your lender can help you identify what options are available to you – many financial institutions offer a range of hardship provision options such as the postponement of mortgage repayments for up to 12 months, extending the term of the home loan, reducing repayments to cover the interest only, and the waiving of fees.

Extending the term of your loan will reduce the repayments you have to make, but it is worth noting you will end up paying a lot more interest in the long run. If you are considering this option, check whether it is easy to revert to a shorter term once you are back on your feet.

Another option is to switch to a ‘no-frills’ home loan with your lender, which could allow you access to a lower interest rate through a basic variable home loan. Yet another option is to refinance your home loan and switch lenders altogether, to a home loan with a more favourable variable interest.

For example, if your home loan is currently with one of the major four banks and you are paying a standard variable rate of 5.74 percent p.a, you could pocket the savings by switching to C ommonwealth Bank -owned Bank w est with a variable interest rate of 4.87 percent p.a.

Rates will vary depending upon the amount of money you want to borrow. H owever, remember to factor in costs associated with refinancing, such as exit fees from your existing lender and establishment fees from the new bank.

With interest rates tipped to increase as early as next week, many more families may find the need to use hardship provisions. Some economists are forecasting a rate rise by the Reserve Bank of 0.25 percentage points in both November and December. A 0.25 percent increase on the average mortgage of approximately $350,000 would add about $50 a month to repayments.

Graham thinks we’re unlikely to see a rise this year, but argues home owners should be prepared for multiple rises early next year. “The current interest rate settings are emergency settings. The Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens has been quite clear that rates are going to return to normal levels – which is what they would have been going into the global financial crisis,” he says.

“Interest rates dropped by about 2 percent , so we expect rates to rise 2 percent above current levels over the next 12 to 18 months.”

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Learn more about home loans

What happens to my home loan when interest rates rise?

If you are on a variable rate home loan, every so often your rate will be subject to increases and decreases. Rate changes are determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, however often when the RBA changes the cash rate, a number of banks will follow suit, at least to some extent. You can use RateCity cash rate to check how the latest interest rate change affected your mortgage interest rate.

When your rate rises, you will be required to pay your bank more each month in mortgage repayments. Similarly, if your interest rate is cut, then your monthly repayments will decrease. Your lender will notify you of what your new repayments will be, although you can do the calculations yourself, and compare other home loan rates using our mortgage calculator.

There is no way of conclusively predicting when interest rates will go up or down on home loans so if you prefer a more stable approach consider opting for a fixed rate loan.

How do I calculate monthly mortgage repayments?

Work out your mortgage repayments using a home loan calculator that takes into account your deposit size, property value and interest rate. This is divided by the loan term you choose (for example, there are 360 months in a 30-year mortgage) to determine the monthly repayments over this time frame.

Over the course of your loan, your monthly repayment amount will be affected by changes to your interest rate, plus any circumstances where you opt to pay interest-only for a period of time, instead of principal and interest.

How long should I have my mortgage for?

The standard length of a mortgage is between 25-30 years however they can be as long as 40 years and as few as one. There is a benefit to having a shorter mortgage as the faster you pay off the amount you owe, the less you’ll pay your bank in interest.

Of course, shorter mortgages will require higher monthly payments so plug the numbers into a mortgage calculator to find out how many years you can potentially shave off your budget.

For example monthly repayments on a $500,000 over 25 years with an interest rate of 5% are $2923. On the same loan with the same interest rate over 30 years repayments would be $2684 a month. At first blush, the 30 year mortgage sounds great with significantly lower monthly repayments but remember, stretching your loan out by an extra five years will see you hand over $89,396 in interest repayments to your bank.

What is the difference between fixed, variable and split rates?

Fixed rate

A fixed rate home loan is a loan where the interest rate is set for a certain amount of time, usually between one and 15 years. The advantage of a fixed rate is that you know exactly how much your repayments will be for the duration of the fixed term. There are some disadvantages to fixing that you need to be aware of. Some products won’t let you make extra repayments, or offer tools such as an offset account to help you reduce your interest, while others will charge a significant break fee if you decide to terminate the loan before the fixed period finishes.

Variable rate

A variable rate home loan is one where the interest rate can and will change over the course of your loan. The rate is determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, so while the cash rate might go down, your bank may decide not to follow suit, although they do broadly follow market conditions. One of the upsides of variable rates is that they are typically more flexible than their fixed rate counterparts which means that a lot of these products will let you make extra repayments and offer features such as offset accounts.

Split rates home loans

A split loan lets you fix a portion of your loan, and leave the remainder on a variable rate so you get a bet each way on fixed and variable rates. A split loan is a good option for someone who wants the peace of mind that regular repayments can provide but still wants to retain some of the additional features variable loans typically provide such as an offset account. Of course, with most things in life, split loans are still a trade-off. If the variable rate goes down, for example, the lower interest rates will only apply to the section that you didn’t fix.

How much are repayments on a $250K mortgage?

The exact repayment amount for a $250,000 mortgage will be determined by several factors including your deposit size, interest rate and the type of loan. It is best to use a mortgage calculator to determine your actual repayment size.

For example, the monthly repayments on a $250,000 loan with a 5 per cent interest rate over 30 years will be $1342. For a loan of $300,000 on the same rate and loan term, the monthly repayments will be $1610 and for a $500,000 loan, the monthly repayments will be $2684.

What is a variable home loan?

A variable rate home loan is one where the interest rate can and will change over the course of your loan. The rate is determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, so while the cash rate might go down, your bank may decide not to follow suit, although they do broadly follow market conditions. One of the upsides of variable rates is that they are typically more flexible than their fixed rate counterparts which means that a lot of these products will let you make extra repayments and offer features such as offset accounts.

What is an interest-only loan? How do I work out interest-only loan repayments?

An ‘interest-only’ loan is a loan where the borrower is only required to pay back the interest on the loan. Typically, banks will only let lenders do this for a fixed period of time – often five years – however some lenders will be happy to extend this.

Interest-only loans are popular with investors who aren’t keen on putting a lot of capital into their investment property. It is also a handy feature for people who need to reduce their mortgage repayments for a short period of time while they are travelling overseas, or taking time off to look after a new family member, for example.

While moving on to interest-only will make your monthly repayments cheaper, ultimately, you will end up paying your bank thousands of dollars extra in interest to make up for the time where you weren’t paying off the principal.

How can I calculate interest on my home loan?

You can calculate the total interest you will pay over the life of your loan by using a mortgage calculator. The calculator will estimate your repayments based on the amount you want to borrow, the interest rate, the length of your loan, whether you are an owner-occupier or an investor and whether you plan to pay ‘principal and interest’ or ‘interest-only’.

If you are buying a new home, the calculator will also help you work out how much you’ll need to pay in stamp duty and other related costs.

What is mortgage stress?

Mortgage stress is when you don’t have enough income to comfortably meet your monthly mortgage repayments and maintain your lifestyle. Many experts believe that mortgage stress starts when you are spending 30 per cent or more of your pre-tax income on mortgage repayments.

Mortgage stress can lead to people defaulting on their loans which can have serious long term repercussions.

The best way to avoid mortgage stress is to include at least a 2 – 3 per cent buffer in your estimated monthly repayments. If you could still make your monthly repayments comfortably at a rate of up to 8 or 9 per cent then you should be in good position to meet your obligations. If you think that a rate rise would leave you at a risk of defaulting on your loan, consider borrowing less money.

If you do find yourself in mortgage stress, talk to your bank about ways to potentially reduce your mortgage burden. Contacting a financial counsellor can also be a good idea. You can locate a free counselling service in your state by calling the national hotline: 1800 007 007 or visiting www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au.

Interest Rate

Your current home loan interest rate. To accurately calculate how much you could save, an accurate interest figure is required. If you are not certain, check your bank statement or log into your mortgage account.

What is the best interest rate for a mortgage?

The fastest way to find out what the lowest interest rates on the market are is to use a comparison website.

While a low interest rate is highly preferable, it is not the only factor that will determine whether a particular loan is right for you.

Loans with low interest rates can often include hidden catches, such as high fees or a period of low rates which jumps up after the introductory period has ended.

To work out the best value for money, have a look at a loan’s comparison rate and read the fine print to get across all the fees and charges that you could be theoretically charged over the life of the loan.

How do I refinance my home loan?

Refinancing your home loan can involve a bit of paperwork but if you are moving on to a lower rate, it can save you thousands of dollars in the long-run. The first step is finding another loan on the market that you think will save you money over time or offer features that your current loan does not have. Once you have selected a couple of loans you are interested in, compare them with your current loan to see if you will save money in the long term on interest rates and fees. Remember to factor in any break fees and set up fees when assessing the cost of switching.

Once you have decided on a new loan it is simply a matter of contacting your existing and future lender to get the new loan set up. Beware that some lenders will revert your loan back to a 25 or 30 year term when you refinance which may mean initial lower repayments but may cost you more in the long run.

What is an ongoing fee?

Ongoing fees are any regular payments charged by your lender in addition to the interest they apply including annual fees, monthly account keeping fees and offset fees. The average annual fee is close to $200 however there are almost 2,000 home loan products that don’t charge an annual fee at all. There’s plenty of extra costs when you’re buying a home, such as conveyancing, stamp duty, moving costs, so the more fees you can avoid on your home loan, the better. While $200 might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, it adds up to $6,000 over the life of a 30 year loan – money which would be much better off either reinvested into your home loan or in your back pocket for the next rainy day.

Example: Anna is tossing up between two different mortgage products. Both have the same variable interest rate, but one has a monthly account keeping fee of $20. By picking the loan with no fees, and investing an extra $20 a month into her loan, Josie will end up shaving 6 months off her 30 year loan and saving over $9,000* in interest repayments.

What is a fixed home loan?

A fixed rate home loan is a loan where the interest rate is set for a certain amount of time, usually between one and 15 years. The advantage of a fixed rate is that you know exactly how much your repayments will be for the duration of the fixed term. There are some disadvantages to fixing that you need to be aware of. Some products won’t let you make extra repayments, or offer tools such as an offset account to help you reduce your interest, while others will charge a significant break fee if you decide to terminate the loan before the fixed period finishes.